For a country filled with programmers, designers, and innovators, Israel lacks a strong video game development scene. This is why – and what it means for a growing industry
Israel is known as the startup nation. It’s a country where startups are not only created, but also thrive. A vast spectrum of sectors have bloomed in Israel.
Except for one.
For a country filled with programmers, designers, and innovators, Israel lacks a strong video game development scene. This is why, and what it means for a growing industry.
A brief history of game development in Israel
The lack of AAA studios, or huge production outfits, in Israel should not be seen as a lack of involvement in the creation of video games. Israel has lead the world in the development of software for online gambling, with the leader being Playtech, who recently opened their own mobile game division.
Other companies have emerged in recent years, such as TabTale, Plarium, Jelly Button, and Sidekick, with a focus on mobile and social games. However four studios is not an industry, and Israel has failed to produce a global hit on the scale of a AAA game or mobile title like “Candy Crush.”
You don’t need to be in Hollywood to produce successful games
In 2014 video games surpassed Hollywood in terms of profitability. These are not numbers to scoff at. Video games are no longer the hobby of young boys, but a full fledged industry, one whose profits can dwarf the GDP of small countries.
While Israel has been hesitant to enter the foray of game content creation, various countries outside of the U.S. have embraced this as an economic vehicle. Finland has long invested in gaming companies such as Rovio, the outfit behind “Angry Birds,” Sweden was the original home of King, which created “Candy Crush,” and more recently Canada’s video game industry, which has over 400 active studios and employs over 20,000 people, contributed over $3 billion to the country’s GDP. Poland also is emerging as one of the leaders of the European development scene and showing how gamers embrace new visions.
Realistically, Israel veered away from content because its startup scene has always been more business focused rather than consumer oriented. In this vein, this is how some Israeli startups are contributing to the gaming sector.
Platform v. content
An Israeli developer that wanted to be kept anonymous explained that investors don’t care about a game’s content; they care about its platform. They’re looking for the next Unreal Engine or Unity, not for the next great franchise. This puts everyone but coders and designers out of the loop, and makes it all but impossible to create a larger game.
A recent example of inventors’ interest in platform rather than content is the rise of virtual reality technologies such as the Oculus Rift. Israel has already contributed in that regard. Facebook’s purchase of Pebbles Interfaces in July and Microsoft’s Kinect, which is powered by technology from PrimeSense, are perfect examples of technology developed in Israel being used in the gaming sector. It may not be as glamorous as a hit game, but it does have an impact on the industry.
This writer’s view
Despite Israel’s prowess in game related technology, the odds of anyone in Israel suddenly becoming dedicated to the creation of a AAA studio are slim to none. And in many ways this is perfectly acceptable. The meager number of well known titles released each year makes it highly unlikely to succeed.
For a moment, however, let’s dream bigger. If Israel found a way to pair its expertise in technology with local content developers eager to make their big splash, it could sit at the forefront of the next big industry revolution.